Flowers for a Healthy lifestyle with Jodi Duncan

by Sharon McGukin

Sharon McGukin

Smithers-Oasis North America Design Director Sharon McGukin, AIFD, AAF, PFCI enjoys sharing floral tips and techniques for celebrating life with flowers.

Floral professionals know that giving and enjoying flowers is important to a healthy lifestyle. Anyone can use flowers as a simple and affordable luxury in the art of living well.

Despite the isolation, Covid gave consumers the gift of discovering the value of flowers. Who doesn't want to add to their daily life beauty, color, fragrance, and a bit of nature brought indoors?

There's a reason that gardening is the number one American hobby. Playing in the dirt reconnects us to Mother Earth. Grounding us. Whether we grow food, herbs, or flowers we find joy in nurturing something that shares life with us.

Floral professional, Jodi Duncan AIFD knows that flowers can be an element of a healthy lifestyle. She shares inspiring thoughts about flowers, the use of flowers, and how to live with flowers with floral audiences both onstage and online.

Flowers can elevate a person’s mood. “It softens the blows of daily living when you have flowers in your life,” explains Jodi. “In today’s challenging environment, flowers can be the eye candy that encourages us to relax.”

In Covid isolation, we were reminded to value home-cooked meals, outdoor gardening, and using flowers to beautify the home. When you place flowers on the table for a meal with family or friends, it makes them feel like special guests. Whether foraged from the garden or purchased from a florist, it’s the effort to share flowers at your table that counts.

“It's mindfulness really, not to just throw some food on the table. We've all stood at the counter and we've all eaten with food in our laps. The whole energy shifts when flowers are added to a room,” says Jodi. Even something simple like a pretty tray of stones, branches, mosses and lichens. “Creative expression and mindfulness can shift your thoughts to help you break out of whatever rut you might be in. Flowers are a medium that carries our creativity. When flowers pass through our hands, there's a tiny bit of us that goes with them.”

It's intuitive to children 

Think of a child giving a plucked flower to someone they love. Even at a young age, children intuitively understand that flowers bring comfort, beauty and joy to others. “There’s something about being like a little child when it comes to flowers that is healthy and full of hope. Hope adds grace to life. And boy, do we need grace now more than ever!” adds Jodi.

Flowers represent love, respect, and treasured memories. We've all been to funerals where there weren't any flowers. It can feel depressing in the midst of loss not to have flowers representing people absent from the room. “When you are in that moment of grief and you see a floral remembrance of the one you love, that's comforting. Flowers really do carry emotion,” continues Jodi.

During Covid, we couldn't join our friends and activities or go places, but we could be outdoors. In our herb garden. Our flower beds. The popularity of foraging grew in that space of time. We could walk through the woods and fields. Bringing back those foraged natural materials to decorate our homes. Teach our children to appreciate nature as well.

“In some ways, flowers became human,” Jodi suggests. “They took on the essence of who we wanted to be, but couldn't. They expressed the words that we couldn't deliver. That's a huge gift.” People had become removed from flowers. Buckets of blooms were held captive behind cooler glass. Trapped behind a sales counter. Separated in cellophane bags.

A return to the garden

During lockdown people went back to the garden. Garden centers sold out in record time. “I think it brought flowers back into our hands and the hands of the consumer.” Now they're accessible, tangible. “We can receive healing just from focusing our attention on something beautiful even if only for a moment,” shares Jodi.

“And it plays into the fact that we were searching for a healthier lifestyle,” adds Sharon. “Flowers are like good food, fine wine, comfortable surroundings. Flowers are a part of a healthier, more elevated lifestyle. You typically find that when people enjoy flowers in their home, they have a lot of other healthy habits, as well.”

Major universities like Rutgers, Harvard, Princeton, Duke University, along with SAF – Society of American Florists, have all done studies regarding how flowers positively influence healing and our mental state. Flowers give joy without responsibility. “Nobody wants any more stuff. Nobody wants anything we have to dust. Flowers you can enjoy.” Jodi explains. “Compost them when you're done. Then pick up some more. It doesn't require a commitment, just a vase and some water.”

For many years, people thought of flowers as a gift, remembrance, or celebratory thought. People didn't buy flowers for themselves. Today, we understand that flowers are an affordable luxury. A gift you give yourself. A nice splurge that we all deserve.

Flowers are memory makers

Some people object to giving flowers thinking they don't last. All good things pass. It’s the memory of giving or receiving flowers that lasts. The flower's purpose is for that moment in time and the memory it creates.

Jodi suggests wedding flowers often take a hit in budgets. “Invariably somebody will say, “Well, flowers just wilt.” I respond, “Can we talk about what happens with the wedding cake? The catering? The band that you paid all that money for that evaporates into thin air? It's gone! It’s the flowers that elevate and change the entire energy of your event. Flowers are memorable. There's nothing that changes the energy of a room, like a bouquet of flowers”

Enjoying flowers is learned behavior

Often, using flowers in the home to elevated lifestyle is learned behavior. You find flowers in homes, where as children, they were taught to appreciate them. Or, they witnessed the enjoyment of flowers in someone else's home. Encourage young children to enjoy flowers.

• Share activities that include flowers
• Let them to help in the garden
• Nurture something that is growing
• Water, repot and feed plants
• Learn how to arrange flowers
• Experiment with remaking a grocery store bouquet
• Experience the basics of flower care and handling

Europeans do a better job of encouraging children to be creative with flowers. “For example, Playmobils. Sometimes in the US, you see a florist kit.” continues Jodi. “Mostly, we find first responders, carpenters, doctors, bakers, all of those kits. In toy stores in England, florist kits were as normal as doctor's or carpenter’s kits. Florist kits come with an apron, hand pruners and other floral things. Children learn flowers are a part of the healthy lifestyle they embrace.”

In the US, we’ve often relegated flowers to special events or purposes. We can encourage the daily use of flowers by offering flowers that are affordable and can be loosely dropped into a vase just for the joy their beauty brings.

Flowers for the joy of it

Many flowers that pass through our hands are a part of our job. Items on a procurement list. We are instructed to teach this, demonstrate that, share these techniques. “The flowers that I enjoy come without a budget, time constraint, or educational message. They're just for me. I don't have to justify it, send a PO for it, or write a report about it later. These are just Jodi's flowers to make me happy.”

How we can share this pleasure with other people? What can florists do to promote the idea of including flowers as an element of a healthy lifestyle?

“You and I were discussing two of our fun floral events,” interjects Sharon.“You were in Chicago, I think. I was in New York. I did a ‘bouquet bar’ for the party guests of a hotel grand opening. I helped each guest make their own fingertip bouquet. Guests staying in the hotel had flower vases in their rooms. We hand-wrapped the bouquets local guests took home with them. It was so much fun for this NYC gathering of special guests.”

“I taught flower crowns for a couple of large music festivals,” interjects Jodi. “We were banging out like 700 crowns a day for festival goers. Favorite memories include seeing a father making a crown for his ‘tween little girl, and seeing mothers and their daughters making flower crowns together. It was very tender to see cross-generationally how flowers brought them together in a shared experience. And, the smiles on their faces as they walked away with the flower crown on their head.”

Jodi had a similar experience with her Ted Talk – ‘Flower Powered’ (YouTube) and gorilla floral installation in Evansville. Twelve vases of a dozen roses sat on cardboard boxes in a construction zone downtown. Jodi hid to watch. Nobody knew where the flowers came from. “When we went back to clean them up, they were all gone.”

“I loved that because those flowers migrated into people’s lives,” says Jodi. People looked around like, “Can we take these?” And as evening fell, they did. Jodi’s photographer took pictures of the people. A mom with a stroller. A guy walking with his wife and child, looking over his shoulder. “He came back and grabbed a bunch, gave it to them, then looked over his shoulder again. I loved this primal response to flowers. Those flowers went into the community. Completely dispersed.” The only thing left to pick up was the boxes. The flowers had impact. People desired them, took them, and smiled about it. They felt connected to the blooms.

Connecting with consumers

At one point, price was key to a sale. For a long time, it was convenience. Today, a ‘shopping experience’ pulls people in. Many innovative florists do a great job of being a destination place. Provide an experience that is enjoyable and suddenly you’re educating, enlightening, and entertaining the next generation of flower buyers.

Florists can offer events for customers of all ages to experience flowers.

• Kids flower-arranging parties
• Character birthday parties
• Terrarium planting bars
• ‘Make and take’ workshops
• Holiday decorating classes
• ‘Girls night out’ design parties
• Dance recital flower crowns or bouquets cart

“Before Covid, flowers were shipped to me every day from companies I worked with. Those boxes stopped coming during Covid. My creative outlet was gone,” shares Jodi. “It was a hard reset for me.”

 The Hungry Florist

As an industry, we give ourselves to creating and elevating flowers - conditioning, storage temperature, flower food, but we don't do that for ourselves. We're mindful of the healthy flowers that pass through our hands, more than the food that passes through our mouths. “This great awakening made me realize I was more concerned about flower food than Jodi food.” We want to know what the vase life of flowers, but what about your life on the planet? What are you putting into yourself?

In our industry, we're really great at thinking about everybody else and putting ourselves last. “I want to change that. I started thinking about my own health, nutrition, and wellness,” explains Jodi.

She started a group on Facebook called the Hungry Florist. You won't find it searching Facebook because it’s hidden. “If you want to join it, just message me. The only reason it's private is that I don't want bots.” It's just a safe space to talk about our relationship with food and how it could be healthier. It's not limited to florists. “It’s called the Hungry Florist because I'm a florist and I'm hungry.” There's some great content. There'll be a website later. It's a really fun community.

We're talking about how and what we eat. How we're too busy to eat healthy. I offer quick tips to integrate in how we approach food, our mindset about food and set ourselves up for success and health. As a floral industry, we really don't talk about our own health or wellness. We're concerned about everybody else's. It's like the oxygen mask on a plane. They say put your own mask on before you put on anybody else's. As florist, we're putting on everybody else's oxygen mask and we're not putting on our own.

This is just a place to stop and go, okay, I've never really thought about my nutrition. I think about nutrition more for my flowers than for myself. “I was that person.” Confides Jodi. “I ate like a 10-year-old at a carnival until some health challenges stopped me. If Covid gave me a gift - it caused me to reflect and carve out a space for my own wellness.”

Flowers enhance quality of life. Anyone can use flowers as a simple and affordable luxury in the art of living well. Jodi sees flowers as a medium. “Whether getting paid to work with them or enjoy they're still a part of my life. And, I'm delighted for that.” 

How can you encourage others to use flowers as an element of a healthy lifestyle?